In any other season, the Redcliffe Dolphins would most probably be the benchmark team having the best points differential in the comp (272). However, they have had to play second fiddle to the PNG Hunters for almost the entirety of the season.
As seen throughout this season, there is very little that separates both teams, and Sunday’s major semi-final at the National Football Stadium in Port Moresby promises to be a spectacle quite like no other…. Well maybe not quite if you take into account the day PNG gained Independence in mid 1975…. And you probably could also add to that November 6th, 2000; the day Adrian Lam led the Kumuls to their first ever quarter finals appearance in a World Cup defeating Tonga 30-22. Agree or not, this game to be played in PNG’s capital in a couple of days is right up there as one of the most eagerly anticipated events in PNG’s history.
They are the best defensive ranked team (332) conceding 14.4 points per game and the second best attack (604) averaging a staggering +26 points per game. Prop Matt Lodge was runner up to the Hunters’ Ase Boas in ISC’s most prestigious Best and Fairest player award by a mere 1 point. Sam Anderson was rightly included in the ISC Team of the Year as Lock of the Year.
The Dolphins’ win at home against the Hunters in round 21 would have given them a lot of confidence and self-belief that they can get the job done in arguably the most daunting venues for any away team to play at. The round 21 performance against the Hunters was based on solid go forward led by Lodge and Anderson. They outmuscled the Hunters pack laying the foundation for the Redcliffe backline which boasts the likes of Broncos up and coming Jonus Pearson and Kumul Thompson Tehteh to capitalise out wide. No doubt Redcliffe will try to replicate this, keeping it simple with the go forward and then bringing in their potent backline to convert on opportunities, which they will have to in order to keep the PNG crowd silent. Key to replicating last outing against the Hunters, ensuring the attitude, enthusiasm and energy is on max and more importantly maintaining that especially during times were momentum shifts away and crowd becomes a factor.
No one remembers a minor premier. The Hunters have to be congratulated in achieving such a feat for the first time in their history. They should be proud of the achievement. But as soon as the hugs and cheers are over and the champagne bottles empty, focus has to immediately be shifted on to the major semi.
PNG would’ve been bitterly disappointed the last time they played Redcliffe. They were outplayed in almost every area. They obviously didn’t turn up with the right energy and attitude and boy did they pay the price with Redcliffe literally doing as they pleased. A couple of late try’s to the Hunters kept the score respectable at the end.
Consequently, the Hunters have to be ready in every aspect from kick off to when the siren sounds at the end. Their strength is their direct running and metres gained through their formidable forward pack. The Wellington brothers Albert and Stanton, David Loko and Nixon Putt have to take matters into their hands and ensure the foundation is solid. This will then allow Boas brothers Ase and Watson to direct traffic and feed their classy outside backs to capitalise.
The injury to in-form Israel Eliab has come at the worst possible time for the Hunters, a broken arm ruling the classy centre out for the finals and possibly a Kumuls spot later in the year at the World Cup. However, this provides an opportunity for the mammoth Bland Abavu to step up and do a job which he most certainly can.
Again, the Hunters have to keep it simple. Complete their sets, build and maintain good go forward, and the kicking game of the Boas brothers has to be on point. Kick well, chase better. If the Hunters are able to keep it simple and their big boppers run with conviction, then their natural flair and brilliance can come to the fore.
This for mine, is the GF preview. Both teams have shown throughout the season that they are just a touch of class above the rest. They both can score points. Redcliffe can certainly defend. The question is are the Hunters able to hold them out?
A vocal, boisterous, and almost warfare like atmosphere, coupled with humid tropical conditions and a PNG outfit hell-bent at proving to their fans and themselves that indeed now is the time will prove the difference at the death. Hunters by 8.